Right-Wing Media Float Debate Solution: Put Us In Charge

In the wake of the CNBC Republican presidential debate, conservative media are calling for even more influence in the debate process. Conservatives have suggested upcoming debates should be moderated by right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, and Erick Erickson.

Conservative Media Are Already Participating In Numerous Debates

Republican National Committee (RNC) Says It Has “Worked To Partner With Conservative Media To Make Sure The Concerns Of Grassroots Republicans Are Addressed.” [GOP.com, accessed 10/30/15]

TIME: RNC “Asked Media Organizations To Partner With Conservatives For The Debates.” TIME noted that some news organizations have partnered with conservative organizations, while others have not. [TIME.com, 7/23/15]

RNC's “Goal” Has Been To “Add An Element Of Conservative Media To The Debates.” RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer wrote in a July 26 Wall Street Journal op-ed that one of its main debate goals has been to incorporate the conservative media and they “have succeeded in that”:

Second, we wanted to add an element of conservative media to the debates. We have succeeded in that as well. NBC is partnering with National Review, CNN is partnering with Salem Radio, and ABC is partnering with the Independent Journal Review. This ensures that the concerns of grass-roots Republicans will be more likely to be addressed. [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/15]

Additionally, the conservative news network Fox News and its sister channel Fox Business are hosting four debates. [GOP.com, accessed 10/30/15] 

RNC Head Reince Priebus: “We're Going To Have Conservatives Help In The Moderating And The Management Of These Debates.” [Salem Radio Network, The Hugh Hewitt Show2/24/15]

National Review: Most Conservative Entities Don't Have Money To Hold A Debate Without A TV Partner. National Review writer Jim Geraghty threw cold water on various calls for conservatives to hold their own solo debates:

You hear a lot of “we should have [insert conservative media entity here] host a debate”, and as mentioned above, National Review will be playing a role in the one in Houston. But the cost of putting on a debate is about $2 million. Most conservative entities don't have that kind of cash lying around, and the networks won't kick in if they don't get the broadcast rights and resulting advertising revenue. There are some interesting discussions going on about non-network options - remember, last week Yahoo broadcast an NFL game - but for now, if you want a debate to be seen, you need a television network as a partner.

The good news is, the RNC hears the complaints from Republicans watching: [NationalReview.com, 10/29/15]

RNC Suspended NBC's Inclusion In February Houston Debate, Pledged “National Review Remains Part Of It.” Priebus wrote on October 30 that the RNC was “suspending the partnership with NBC News for the Republican primary debate at the University of Houston on February 26, 2016” because CNBC's debate “was conducted in bad faith.” Priebus wrote of National Review, the conservative media partner for the debate: “While we are suspending our partnership with NBC News and its properties, we still fully intend to have a debate on that day, and will ensure that National Review remains part of it.” [GOP.com, 10/30/15

Conservative Media Want More Influence With Debates

Breitbart.com: “Why Not Hold A Conservative Blogger GOP Debate?” Breitbart editor Joel Pollak wrote that debates should include a “panel of moderators who represent the spectrum of conservative new media” such as Erick Erickson and Ben Shapiro:

Let us build a panel of moderators who represent the spectrum of conservative new media from which conservative voters receive their daily stream of information about the GOP candidates.

There are so many potential panelists: Erick Erickson of RedState, Ed Morrissey of HotAir, Ben Shapiro of Daily Wire, Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist, Jamie Weinstein of Daily Caller, Philip Klein of the Washington Examiner, -and so many more. We are competitors, but we can unite to do a better job than the mainstream media has done. [Breitbart.com, 10/29/15]

Fox's Sean Hannity Wants To Moderate A Debate. During Hannity's October 28 program, Ted Cruz suggested Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh as moderators. Hannity said “I'm in. And I think I can speak for the other two, they're in as well”:

CRUZ: And I've got to say, Sean, one of the most ridiculous things, why is it that we keep having debates where the moderators, no one in their right minds thinks any of the moderators actually will vote in a Republican primary. In my view, Republican primary debates ought to be moderated by people who would vote at a primary. How about a debate moderated by Sean Hannity and Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh? Now, that would be a debate. But instead --

HANNITY: I'm in. And I think I can speak for the other two, they're in as well. [Fox News, Hannity, 10/28/15]

Wash. Post's Ed Rogers: Limbaugh, Hannity And Levin “Would All Ask Tough Questions That Are Of Real Interest To Republican Voters.” Wash. Post Republican blogger Ed Rogers wrote of Sen. Cruz's suggestion to have the conservative radio hosts moderate a debate:  

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who had a breakthrough moment in the debate railing against the moderators' insulting questions, did a follow-up interview with Fox News anchor Bret Baier and reiterated a pretty good suggestion about the debate structure. Cruz asked why the Republican National Committee doesn't plan at least one debate with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin as moderators. Well, that's not a bad idea. It's easy to suggest that the moderators should be at least neutral so they don't simply offer up a series of softball questions that don't challenge the candidates or put them outside of their comfort zones. But the words “Rush Limbaugh” and “softball questions” have never been used in the same sentence. I don't think this group of Republican candidates would ever feel coddled by Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin. That trio would all ask tough questions that are of real interest to Republican voters. And I think it would be a ratings juggernaut.  Anyway, Cruz is right -- the moderators in the Democratic primary debate praised the candidates and avoided creating too much fighting or tension among the candidates. There's a big difference between a moderator asking probing questions that Republican voters want to know the answers to and taking pot shots and making belittling points under the guise of asking a question. [WashingtonPost.com, 10/30/15]

The Federalist Suggests System Where “Right Of Center Media Outlets Are Actually In Control.” Conservative writer Ben Domenech wrote on The Federalist that the RNC should set up a new system that “would ensure right of center media outlets are actually in control of how the debate will work”:

Once CNBC was given a debate, they weren't interested in finding a conservative media partner. Organizations had to go and convince them to partner, as opposed to the other way around. They knew that the RNC had, at the point of giving them a debate, given up all leverage in forcing them to do anything - you'll take Larry Kudlow's one question in the undercard debate and like it.

But what if instead of picking the channel and then allowing them to select the partner, the RNC picks the partner first, and the channels must then bid on the opportunity to put on the debate?

Practically speaking, the RNC would retain some control of the process; it would give the National Reviews of the world a money boost from the channels; the TV channel would get the ad revenue; but all the while, it would ensure right of center media outlets are actually in control of how the debate will work. They can demand certain panelists, topics, etc. as contingencies of cutting a deal, and work with the hosts and networks who offer them the best deal. [The Federalist, 10/30/15]

WND CEO: “Maybe Alternative Media Outlets Should Get Together And Put On Their Own Debate.” WND is a conservative news site perhaps best-known for its obsession with President Obama's birth certificate. Joseph Farah, its founder, editor and CEO, wrote an opinion piece arguing that “alternative media outlets should get together and put on their own debate.” He added: “Wouldn't it be fun to see people like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage asking questions?”

Back in 2008, which seems like a long time ago, I was asked to moderate a Republican presidential debate. It was ... different. The problem, of course, was that John McCain didn't show up, though nearly everyone else did.

It didn't get a big television audience - no major network cared to air it. That's the problem.

But how would you like to see something like that tried in 2016?

I think it would be revelatory. I think it would be great fun. I think it would be stimulating. I think you'd hear more substance than in any of these phony-baloney debates where anchors are just trying to steal the show from the candidates - and looking bad doing it.

Wouldn't it be fun to see people who actually might vote in a Republican primary doing the grilling, rather than apparatchiks for the Democratic Party hurling ill-conceived and transparent gotcha questions?

Wouldn't it be fun to see people like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage asking questions?

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but it seems the 2016 campaign is already redefining the art of the possible. [WND.com, 10/29/15]

The Blaze: “Exclusive: After CNBC Debate Backlash, GOP Campaign Official Claims Candidates Are Floating Glenn Beck As Possible Alternative Moderator.” Glenn Beck's website wrote that “An official for a Republican presidential campaign claims that a number of Republican presidential candidates will convene a conference call Friday night to discuss the RNC's role in future primary debates, as well as other options for debate moderators. Among the names likely to be proposed is Glenn Beck, the official said.” Beck's website added:

The official claimed officials from at least three campaigns, Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Jim Gilmore - are likely to support Beck as a possible debate moderator. The official said that Beck's name will be mentioned because he is a “fair reviewer” and is liked “in and out of the Tea Party.” [The Blaze, 10/30/15

*This post has been updated with additional content.